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Tech-first banking is 'leaving people behind'

4th May 2022
Kiera Sowery

With the future of bank branches in peril and digital finance at an all-time high, the banking world is leaving a lot of people behind, says Newcastle Building Society’s head of customer contact Stuart Fearn.

According to Fearn, high street banks are 'forcing' customers into an ‘online-first’ experience in order to cut costs. Yet when it comes to making life-changing financial decisions, believes Fearn, people want to talk about it with real people, face-to-face. The click of a button on a website won’t cut it.

The proof is in the numbers. In a recent study, consultancy firm McKinsey found that only 15% of potential customers buy a financial product through a solely digital path. However the conversion rate rockets to 55% when in-person engagements are involved in the buying process. Despite this, says Fearn, banks are still refusing to change their ways.

The future of bank branches

This is leaving a vacuum that building societies are well placed to fill. At Newcastle Building Society a people first attitude is championed. The society is transforming its branches into community-led advice hubs. Walk into a branch and you could find a coffee morning for early retirees, groups discussing investment products – and in one branch, which shares a space with the local library, you can even rent a copy of Harry Potter. Most importantly of all, when you go into a branch you’re guaranteed human support, no matter what, without having to go through a chat bot. NBS prides itself on providing valuable financial advice, all the while building an inclusive environment where the community can seek advice and source financial products.

Advice is especially crucial as there is a much wider range of financial products than there used to be, with a plethora of ISAs, mortgage and loan options. It's not just older people who prefer branch banking, young people are also finding it harder to access person-to-person advice, with some having never stepped into a bank branch in their lives. 

Technology could be the solution

Technology isn’t the enemy, far from it. It should be there simply to enhance an in-person customer experience – is Fearn’s mantra. To achieve this aim, NBS is partnering with ACF Technologies, a global leader in advanced scheduling software, to reinvent the online banking journey. By going on the NBS app a customer is instantly encouraged to drop in to a branch or arrange a video call. As the software retains customer details, they are connected with the adviser specialising in their needs. This streamlined service is designed to be simple, smooth and low fuss, thereby preventing people losing incentive.   

For those without much technical know-how, a QR code on the back of their bank card takes them to their branch website and provides only a few steps to cut down on clicks and decisions.

Instead of technology providing a barrier, NBS is determined to ensure technology provides possibility. Unlike banks, which have slashed their number of branches in half since 2015, this building society wants to help people to their branch front door and beyond. 

We don't discriminate between the technically literate and those who struggle. We want everyone to take charge of their money, says Fearn. For Newcastle Building Society, technology is a gateway that gives every member of the community easy access to specialised help, no matter their situation.

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